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Derek Walcott: “You will love again the stranger who was your self”

derek walcottThe Nobel Prize-winning poet, Derek Walcott, asks us to imagine a time when we meet ourselves, with elation, at the door, and invite ourselves in to become reacquainted with this “stranger who has loved you / all your life.”

It’s a beautiful image, and one that has strong resonances for those who practice meditation. We are often strangers to ourselves.

Consider this: How often do we, in our lack of integration, tell ourselves that we’re going to do one thing and yet, a day, or perhaps mere seconds later, we find ourselves doing another? The self who made the first decision is in some way a different self from the one who actually caused the action — whether it be to eat that cookie after saying “enough” or to skip the gym session we committed ourselves to — and the two selves are strangers to one another.

Consider this: Scientists have shown that unconscious electrical processes in the brain precede our conscious decisions to perform volitional, spontaneous acts. In other words a “stranger within” makes our decisions some seconds before we become consciously aware of the intent to act, while the conscious mind merely claims in retrospect to have initiated volitional acts.

But there are deeper resonances than these. Some Buddhist teachings draw a distinction between mind and consciousness, the former being comprised of the more or less deluded stream of thoughts, feelings, and other mental constructions, while the latter consists of innate, pure awareness. Consciousness is said to be like a mirror, while mind is like the images reflected in the mirror. The mirror, being inherently pure, is never touched by the images it reflects, no matter how impure they may be. The images, although we may take them to be real, are merely illusions.

We all have the tendency to identify with mind — with the illusory and transitory images — rather than with the mirror, despite the fact that the images are fleeting and insubstantial, while the mirror itself is primordially present and enduring. And so we are caught up in our own experience, believing that the judgments and evaluations we impose on our experience represent how things really are, thinking that our thoughts and emotions define us, and thinking in fact that they are us.

But some day, if we practice looking in the mirror and see through the images, looking deeply into their transitory and illusory nature nature, we may catch a glimpse — perhaps more than a glimpse — of the mirror itself. And to see that mirror will be to see the stranger who is our own deeper nature, our own uncontrived purity, and the stranger that is ourselves will be a stranger no more.

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Comment from Ian
Time: August 29, 2008, 11:42 am

Trying so hard to find the Me that took pleasure in the little things. Just the time with my wife and children, the pleasure in just being near them. I lost him somewhere along the way while i was focused on what I thought was important. Providing for them, something I couldn’t seem to do. Now I’ve all but lost my wife and it hurts to see the pain I’ve caused with my anger at my own short comings. I just want to save what should always have been the most important thing, The love that held us together through it all.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 29, 2008, 12:43 pm

Hi Ian,

It’s so easy to lose touch with ourselves in this way, and to lose the others that we love at the same time. But sometimes we have to wander off the path in order to realize just how important that path is to us.

I just want to reassure you that the old you is still in there somewhere, although when the two of you meet again you won’t be that old self — you’ll have the innocence and fascination of the old you, plus a healthy dose of worldly wisdom gained through your travails. It’ll be better than ever.

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Comment from john
Time: March 9, 2011, 4:24 pm

Who is the stranger

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